CARNSEW, William I (bef.1534-88), of Bokelly in St. Kew, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. bef. 1534, 1st surv. s. of William Carnsew of Bokelly by Jane, da. and coh. of Edmund Stradling of St. Donats, Glam.; bro. of John. m. Honor, da. of John Fitz of Tavistock, Devon, 3s. inc. William Carnsew II 2da. suc. fa. 1570.1

Offices Held


It is unlikely that William Carnsew, the father, who had not sat in Parliament since 1547 and was now more than 60 years old, was the member for Penryn in 1559, and it is here assumed that the MP was his son. Until his father’s death he no doubt shared with him the family’s mining interests. From at least 1583 he was associated with Thomas Smythe II, customer of London, in an attempt to raise fresh capital, and with Ulricke Frose, a German engineer, the counterpart of Burchart Cranyce, whom his father had employed. He was also on friendly terms with the 6th Lord Mountjoy, a prominent investor in the mines royal as well as a fellow landowner in Cornwall. The lack of quick profits was attributed to various causes; by Smythe to the high wages paid to the foreign miners, and by Frose and Carnsew to such natural disasters as the flooding of workings at Treworthen in June 1584. A year later there was insufficient money to pay the workmen. No silver was found at Treworthen, but Carnsew found copper at St. Just and Logan, where early high yields facilitated the raising of capital for development.2

Apart from his mining activities, what we know of Carnsew’s life comes from his diary. The extant pages relate to the year 1576-7 and show him occupied with his estate, his books, his health and his puritanism. He read Luther, Calvin, Foxe, the puritan Second Admonition to the Parliament and the Book of Discipline. There is also some mention of public affairs, such as the King of Spain’s reverses in Barbary, ‘one Wentworth’ (Peter) being committed to prison for a parliamentary speech, and matters concerning the Prince of Orange. A friendly letter survives, written to Anthony Rous, another Cornish puritan. Unlike Rous, Carnsew did not maintain a chaplain in his house, preaching himself to his assembled family, guests and servants. In his puritanism probably lies the explanation for his single appearance in Parliament in 1559, when assured protestants were much needed. His neighbours, the Grenvilles, Carews and Killigrews, were his friends and no doubt the Killigrews obtained him the return at Penryn. A last reference to Carnsew occurs in December 1587. He died 22 Feb. 1588, and was buried at St. Kew four days later. Richard Carew of Antony described him as ‘a gentleman of good quality, discretion and learning who read widely’.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 76-7; A. L. Rowse, Tudor Cornw. 429; J. Maclean, Trigg Minor, ii. 170.
  • 2. M. B. Donald, Eliz. Copper, 81, 300-56; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 131, 134, 153, 158, 164, 179, 185, 200, 201, 370, 371, 393; Rowse, 55, 56, 58.
  • 3. SP46/16; Rowse, 58-9, 426-9; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 443; Add. 1580-1625, p. 119; SP12/172/32; Donald, 356; G. C. Boase and W. P. Courtney, Bibliog. Cornub. 1115; Carew’s Surv. Cornw. ed. Halliday, 99.